Amid long nights and ice, I was overjoyed to see a full house turn up for SheSaysMCR’s first event of 2019. For a few hours, we were able to forget the noise of the insignificant details of our daily routines and think about some of the more serious issues facing us, from the unseen face of stereotype as self-fulfilling to looking at mortality as an open discussion space.
Tech diversity activist Annette Joseph [@diversenett] began the night’s presentation schedule by sharing her experience growing up in a racially-segregated Leeds on the receiving end of stereotype and a complete lack of expectation. Being in a community of liberal thinkers, mostly women and often from, if not visible, definitely identifiable minority groups, we sometimes allow our activism for inclusion to take on the aura of “racism is nearly dead” but what we heard was a story of subtle decisions to back up a conservative white-dominant agenda, perhaps one that is so engrained that most don’t even know they are supporting it. It wasn’t, though, a cause for despair, in spite of its shocking quality. She was embodying a call to action to subvert, even slightly, but continuously and incrementally, to work toward equality.
Noemie Lopian [@holocaustmatter], daughter of author and holocaust survivor Dr Ernst Israel Bornstein, took the night to what may at first glance appear to be a darker place but somehow didn’t devolve into an atmosphere of despair. Speaking on the issue of conflicts both in the time of her father’s life in the Nazi Death Camps and in our time with the rise of the radical right and the increase in antisemitism here at home in Europe and farther afield, she reminded us that the Shoah is not simply a historical tragedy. We were called on to see it as a lesson, never to be forgotten, and ensured that we don’t forget that, in many ways, we are witnessing the same rise in hatred here in the West that swept Hitler to power and plunged Europe into armed conflict seventy years ago. Lopian went on to share with us her hope that we can see that in a way previous generations chose not to notice and that this could, if we are active now, make all the difference in replacing that hate with acceptance and understanding.
The second half of the evening began with Sarah Unwin [@sarahunwin] leading us through the social impact of death’s negative media image — perhaps understandable through a contemporary western lens. But she is encouraging discussion and free thought about death as a necessary and inseparable part of the human experience. Her ongoing collaboration with veteran game developer Dan Hett to develop a public, shared online experience surrounding a discovery of death was perhaps my first encounter with approaching the youth culture of distancing ourselves from the idea of death (except as an over-the-top celebration of gothic style) from a position of play and discovery. Unman and Hett’s project works toward the idea of a positive relationship with death and an openness in our culture of ever-increasing means of escaping reality, to come back to the natural end and address it without fear.
Rounding out the night was Ania [insert last name here] [@aniamakes] with a talk about interpersonal conflict resolution through nonviolent language. She addressed the inherent confrontational nature of most of our relationships and led a discussion into how better understanding and compassionate versions of our daily language could subvert the opposition that causes us so much difficulty and negativity.
So, while most of Manchester escaped nature’s reminders that we are still very much in winter, a group of women stood up and shared their experiences of life and ideas for a more inclusive and equal approach to some ideas around conflict in the contemporary world. And I was honored to be among them.